SANTA MONICA, Calif. –
Sure, she did her share of recreational drugs, but in the 1960s and 1970s, what young person didn't? There was more, of course: posing naked in Playboy magazine, a string of bad love affairs, speeches at anti-war rallies.
There was a difference, though. While Davis the protester denounced war at those rallies in the 1980s, other demonstrators denounced her father, President Reagan (search).
"I regret all of it," says Davis, who has just published "The Long Goodbye," (search) a poignant, heartfelt memoir about watching the father she adored fight a 10-year battle with Alzheimer's.
Well, she regrets almost all of it.
The Playboy shoot was pretty cool, she says with a twinkle in her eye.
"If you stripped it right down, I didn't do things that much differently than many, many other people did," Davis reflects over a tall glass of iced tea. "I mean I was never arrested or something."
And then, with a giggle: "I wasn't THAT BAD!"
She was both Patti Davis, angry young liberal, and Patricia Ann Davis Reagan, Daddy's little girl.
She is older now and less angry, but still just as liberal and still Daddy's little girl — so much so that everything she said or did to hurt her father still pains her greatly.
Davis talks about her book and her relationship with Reagan at a beach-front hotel that evokes many happy memories of days shared with her father in the early years of his illness. It was a time when he still got around, before a broken hip in 2001 left him bedridden.
"He came here a lot," she says softly, looking out the huge lobby windows that frame the brilliant white sand of Santa Monica Beach. "We'd walk along the bike path and stuff."
Years before, when they lived in nearby Pacific Palisades, Reagan would take her to the beach and teach her to bodysurf. On weekends, they visited the family ranch, where he taught Davis to ride horses.
Davis was living and working as a writer in New York when her father announced in 1994 that he had Alzheimer's. The following year she began keeping a journal that became "The Long Goodbye." It was named, not for the Raymond Chandler novel, but for how her mother, Nancy Reagan, came to describe the disease's effects on family members who must watch helplessly as a loved one's memory of people, places and things slowly fades away.
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf gave the book, which focuses on how Reagan's struggle with Alzheimer's made the family closer, a respectable first printing of 60,000 copies.
Davis' editor, Victoria Wilson, said what drew her to the book was her feeling that anyone who had ever watched helplessly as a loved one fought a serious illness could relate to the story it tells.
"The fact that it is about Ronald Reagan is secondary," Wilson said. "Most important is it's a daughter writing about her father."
Scott Wannberg of Dutton's in Brentwood, one of Los Angeles' largest independent book sellers, said his store had ordered 100 copies, an unusually large number for any title. As of last week, the book, released Nov. 16, ranked 303 on Amazon.com's sales list.
It is Davis' fifth book and a slim volume, but one rich in family anecdotes. One story tells of how Reagan, a deeply religious man, painted such a flattering portrait of Jesus Christ that as a child Davis decided she would marry Jesus one day. When she told her father, he let her down gently.
"He just pointed out that when Jesus returns to Earth, he's going to have kind of a full schedule and he might not get around to marrying, or even taking me out to dinner," Davis says with a laugh. "That was so sweet of him."
It was that sweetness, Davis says, that helped endear her father to so many people, even those who didn't agree with his conservative Republican politics. Still, family members were stunned at the enormous public grief triggered by his death last June.
"We expected ... an outpouring of emotion in this country," she says. "But we did not expect entire freeways to be turned into parking lots. We did not expect overpasses to be filled with people. There's no way all those people were Republicans."
Reagan had both conservative and liberal admirers, and his daughter falls firmly into the latter category.
At 52, she says she has mellowed and isn't nearly as outspoken as she once was. She cringes when reminded she once told former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that she "loathed" his politics as she was thanking him for displaying kindness at a party celebrating her father's 85th birthday.
"I wouldn't do that now," she says.
But she has little respect for the policies of the Bush administration.
"I'm very concerned about the next four years," she say, ticking off President Bush's opposition to expanding stem cell research, his foreign policy and his environmental policy.
"Bush is going to go into Alaska and he's going to ruin the last natural untouched place on this Earth, and there's no going back. Once you do that there is no going back."
Not long before she began "The Long Goodbye," Davis ended a long separation with her parents. A slender, strikingly pretty woman with long brown hair and piercing brown eyes, Davis acknowledges that she was for many years emotionally fragile. She doesn't blame her parents, but notes the times in which she grew up.
"I think I'm like many people of my generation," she says. "We held on to our adolescence for a very, very long time. ... We were going to keep examining our inner child and what went wrong in our childhood for a long time."
But that's in the past. These days, she speaks warmly of her family, delighting in telling stories about her mother's new dog and her brother Ron Reagan's refusal to get a cell phone.
"It drives me crazy," she says, becoming animated. "He says, 'I don't want to be one of those people walking along the street talking to myself.' I said, 'Well then, don't. Put it in you pocket. Or turn it off. But can you just get one?' "
When he went to work as a political commentator for MSNBC, she continues, the network even gave him one.
"But it's in his closet," she adds with a laugh. "I don't think he even knows how to turn it on."